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Between Alarms – October 2012


September 26, 2012
By Arjuna George

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The volume of information that comes our way every day can be so overwhelming

The volume of information that comes our way every day can be so overwhelming that we may not be reaping the full benefits of all the useful news and fire-service resources that are out there. Social media, e-mails, websites, forums, books and magazines pack our minds every waking second. We have never in history had such great and immediate access to the volumes of diverse information that we have today.  I believe these abundant resources can play a huge and important part in our daily lives; how we manage them determines how much we gain from them.

As in any business, staying abreast of the latest information is critical to success. We are fortunate to have 24/7 access to endless innovations, ideas and stories from around the world. We are at a place in time at which we have all the tools at our disposal to build a better fire service and a better working environment. One problem: having too much of something can lead to confusion, stress and infobesity.

In today’s fire service, from a recruit firefighter to the fire chief, the information intake is not solely fire related; there are many opportunities for expanding our horizons, from business to HR, technology, and psychology. All this diverse information will help us  grow and build a stronger fire service.

On the fire ground, too much information and too many incoming messages can negatively affect a firefighter’s situational awareness, just as too much cyber-data can alter one’s decision making and learning processes at work and at home.  Being overwhelmed by a mass of information increases our stress levels, and we begin to absorb less and less.

To combat this, I use a valuable method that allows me to absorb a large amount of data, without the strain of information overload. I call this system STR – skim, tag and read. I review a large number of blogs, social media posts and magazines daily, and have found the need for a simple way to organize these resources and manage them in order to actually retain the valuable nuggets found in each of them.

Our social media feeds and inbox junk is camouflaging the real informative gems out there. So, how can one organize and decipher the valuable information from the mountains of junk? By using the STR method, you can quickly scan your resources, and then tag them for later.

Skimming a website or magazine should take only a few minutes.

I use a number of tagging methods such as Post-it notes for magazines, or opening up a new window in my browser for online material. By using the browser method, I may find I have a handful of appealing articles to read at the end of my web skimming. I leave the items open to read when my schedule permits. One method that I choose not to use is the browser bookmark function; I find the out of sight, out of mind premise comes into play with this tool.

One tagging method that I find easy and effective is tweeting the piece I find interesting via Twitter; this allows me to have a permanent bookmark that I can review later, from anywhere, online.  Twitter is a powerful, professional information portal that can be easily accessed by computers and our phones.  Twitter’s biggest information-age bonus is the fact that the micro information comes to you in bite-sized chunks and can be read very quickly and skimmed in just a few minutes. This greatly increases our intake overdose and allows us to quickly scan for interesting and thought-provoking posts and information.

The third and final step is to go back to the tagged resources and read only the interesting nuggets. This method reduces the time that could be wasted daily and provides valuable information. On average, people spend more than 30 hours a month online; I don’t see that number decreasing, but what we should be looking at is smarter time spent online.

Consider this: an incredible 900,000 blogs are posted every 24 hours. Even if one per cent of those interest you, that leaves 9,000 sources to funnel through. If you want to stay productive and stress free, then it is paramount to find ways to manage this overwhelming intake.

In order to avoid all the unwanted cyber-clutter, it is key to follow only active and interesting people whom you trust and who share valuable information. Over time, we reach a saturation point with the online forums and newsletters to which we subscribe, and we should begin to triage our inboxes. An estimated 20 per cent of our work e-mails are considered spam. Begin your triage by unsubscribing to forums that you do not read regularly; this will simplify your intake and allow you to focus on sites and blogs that provide you with value.

There are lots of ways to effectively manage and filter the massive amount of data. Figure out which way works best for you and enjoy the gold mine of fire-service resources. The information highway is not a tool from which you should distance yourself: embrace it, prioritize it, but don’t tune it out!

Hopefully, you skimmed this article, tagged it and came back to read it. The best thing you can do between alarms is to continually prepare and improve yourself. There are no excuses; the information is yours for the taking. Stay safe.


Arjuna George is a 15-year veteran and the deputy fire chief of operations on Salt Spring Island, B.C. E-mail him at ageorge@saltspringfire.com.


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